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Day 51 - "I only use positive reinforcement"

100 days

Really? I find that unlikely to be true...

People get put off by the word negative in negative reinforcement so try to think about it as 'subtraction' and positive reinforcement as 'addition'. Does that help? Let's have a quick look at the difference because horse training is a combination of them both, of course.

Negative reinforcement - the release of pressure as soon as the correct behaviour is displayed. 


  1. Pressure on the left rein - horse steps left - release
  2. Leg pressure to increase speed - horse moves faster - release
  3. Verbal clucking to move up a gait (trot) - horse trots - release (silence)
  4. Placing your hand on the horse's poll - horse lowers head - release
  5. Pointing the whip towards the hip at the bottom of the trailer ramp - horse steps on to ramp - release

Positive reinforcement - the addition of something as soon as the behaviour is displayed.


  1. Horse steps left - say 'good boy'
  2. Horse increases speed - scratch on the wither with your hand
  3. Horse moves up a gait (trot) - use 'clicker' (secondary reinforcer as the horse has learned to associate this with food but still positive reinforcement)
  4. Horse lowers head - feed grain from hand
  5. Horse steps on to trailer - feed treat

These examples make it clear that training is a mixture of the two types of reinforcement (and often positive and negative punishment which we'll talk about next time). When riding and I want my horse to trot, I'd cluck to him and when he did trot, I'd stop clucking and reward with a scratch - both positive and negative working together and providing the horse with the timely release of pressure and reward.

So, while it sounds nice to say you only use positive reinforcement if you ever put a head collar on your horse, ride or simply ask it to move across by placing your hand on its hindquarter then you are, in fact, using both types.

Try to think of some different types of positive and negative reinforcement that you use and leave me a comment below.

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